“Row” the Fish Over


DerShann is currently a student at USC, majoring in Philoshophy. His family are from Tsingtao, Shandong, China. He likes to play the game League of Legends, and the following folklore is collected during some of the games we played together via the voice chat chanel.

The Mian Piece:

DerShann:”In Tsingtao, when you eat a fish, if you finished eating all the meat on one side and want to turn the fish over to eat the other side, you cannot say ‘翻过来 fan guo lai(turn it over)’, you must say ‘划过来 hua guo lai(row it)’. Tsingtao is a city that is built on the fishing industry, and a lot of people are fishermen, especially those who sell you the fish. Fishermen are afraid that their ship might sink and they might die, (in Chinese it is called 翻船了 chuan fan le(the ship is turned over). So they really hate the word ‘翻, fan(turn over)’. So we say ‘划过来 hua guo lai(Row it)’. This is like encouraging the fishermen to row their ships back, to have a safe sail, kinda like, row it to the beach. This is something everyone knows in Tsingtao.


This way of saying things reveals that the city Tsingtao is heavily based on the fishing industry. It also shows how people there value their safety during theiir sea sails. This is a custom that’s specific to cities that are close to the sea and relies on fishing, or have rich histories in fishing.

People believe merely saying the word “翻 fan” might cause the ship to really be turned over by waves and wind, which shows how people draw connections between words and actual events.